The Big Travel Guide to Nice, Côte d’Azur

The first time I visited Nice I was awe struck by its beauty. Palm trees line the wide Promenade des Anglais whilst the sea glitters playfully in the warm Mediterranean sun. Sunbathers bask in the heat on sun loungers along the 4 km stretch of pebble beach or cool off in the water which transitions from a stunning shade of turquoise to a deeper shade of blue further out from shore. Others sip ice cold drinks or dine at one of the many private beach bars whilst enjoying magnificent views of the bay – known to many as ‘The Bay of Angels’.

The colourful buildings with their brightly painted shuttered brings character to the city known for its arts and culture and the labyrinth of narrow streets in Old Nice leads you on an adventure of discovery filled with art galleries, boutiques, cafes and beautiful old churches before opening up to farmers markets filled with trinkets, flowers and fresh produce.

Tourists and locals alike stroll across the city’s main square, Place Massena. Paved with black and white checkered tiles along with stunning Neoclassical structures such as the large statue of Apollo that crowns the square’s fountain, the plaza, bordered by buildings with striking red facades and grand arches is known as the symbolic heart of Nice dividing the old town from the modern one.

A short walk from Place Massena leads you to Promenade du Paillon, a fabulous park filled with fountains that shoot jets of water from the paved ground, creating a steamy, refreshing haze. Delighted children in bathing suits can be seen squealing with laughter as they dance and play amongst the spray, much to the enjoyment of their onlooking parents, whilst others climb on giant wooden aquatic themed structures including a friendly looking octopus, a whale and impressive pirate ship.

No wonder therefore, with so much to capture the imagination, that I was in love with Nice from the moment I arrived…

A year on, we visited again the city I had developed such fond memories of from my last trip. Having suffered such tragedy in recent months, following the terrible events on Bastille Day, as we drove alongside the promenade, I noticed a French flag catch the wind as we drove by, flying high against the sun and acting as a poignant symbol of Nice’s gathering strength and defiance in the wake of such heartbreak. As our taxi continued its journey, the surrounding views of Nice were as familiar as they had been before and as if greeted by an old friend, I felt the strength of her embrace.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in Nice for four nights at Hotel Beau Rivage, a boutique 4 star hotel with beautiful 19th century facades, that gives way to clean, contemporary design once inside. Located only one street back from the main promenade in Old Nice, it is brilliantly and conveniently positioned for exploring the main part of the city. One of the first seaside hotels in Nice, it was once a favourite of artists and intellectuals alike such as Matisse, Fitzgerald, Nietzsche or Chekhov. Pebbles and polished stone feature throughout the hotel and act as symbols of Beau Rivage.

Upon our arrival, we entered the sleek, modern foyer and headed for the main reception desk where we were greeted warmly by polite and friendly staff who checked us in and then escorted to our air-conditioned room on the 2nd floor.

As the door opened, I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious our room was, which featured large wooden shutters, modern furnishings and a very large bed. Flowers, water and a beautifully wrapped plate of fresh fruit stood welcomingly on a small table, along with a cute little teddy bear, Beau Rivage keyring and sweets which we kept for the children upon our return. The executive room rate at the time of our stay (August 2016) was approximately 220 euros per night.

Having unpacked and quickly freshened up we took the lift from the dramatically lit corridor (another feature of the hotel) back down to the main reception which featured a cosy bar off the main foyer to the right and the dining room to the left.

Unless you book a room that includes breakfast, you can expect to pay around 17 euros per person for breakfast at Hotel Beau Rivage. We ate breakfast every morning in the hotel which offers a range of food from fresh fruit, yoghurts, cereal and pastries to a range of breads, ham, salami and cooked breakfast, ensuring a plentiful start to the day. We really enjoyed our stay at the hotel and were particularly appreciative of the service we received while we were there but it was the location itself that made it a winning choice as a hotel as well as its private beach, the fabulous Plage Beau Rivage, positioned only a two minute walk on the Promenade des Anglais.

Plage Beau Rivage

I LOVED Plage Beau Rivage! Divided into areas known as the ‘Zen area’ where you can enjoy a relaxing open air massage, the ‘Trendy area’ which featured an outdoor bar and super cool lounge, brand new tapas and snacks area and sunbeds. Then you have the Private Beach, where you can relax on comfortable sun loungers or for those wanting to enjoy a more cosy experience there are large double beds positioned right on the beach (no duvets required!).  There is also a fabulous restaurant for a more formal dining experience where you can enjoy a range of Mediterranean cuisine including home-made dishes and fresh produce served on a daily basis.

Having arrived in Nice on a Tuesday, late afternoon and once checked in, we took a short stroll along the promenade before heading to Plage Beau Rivage for what was going to be ‘one drink’…

We celebrated our arrival in the ‘trendy area’ outdoor bar arriving as it opened its doors at 6 p.m. True to its name, it boasted fabulous views across the sea and tables with bar stools to perch on in the main bar area.  The uber cool, sleek white seating, with comfortable grey padding, sat along a mix of tiled and wooden floors and was shielded by a large canopy or white parasols. It was the perfect start to our break.

Despite our ‘one drink’ idea and luckily for us, we discovered that every Tuesday and Thursday evening, Plage Beau Rivage turns into the place to be as hosts its own exclusive beach parties.

As the bar started to fill up with party goers, the atmosphere was transformed with a mix of pink, purple and blue mood lighting and ambient dance tunes played by the DJ, that pumped melodically through the speakers but at a level that still meant you could hold a conversation comfortably.

Although you are meant to book to eat if you want to enjoy one of the parties, a table became spare so we ended up staying for the whole evening, sipping strawberry daiquiris and beer, eating pizza and enjoying the lively atmosphere. The dress code is fairly casual although we did see lots of girls wearing nice dresses and heels.

The party ran from 7 p.m. to midnight and I confess we sloped off as the midnight bell chimed and before I turned into a pumpkin.

Our next visit to Plage Beau Rivage was to experience the beach by day. You can book a sun lounger on the beach for 20 euros for a full day or 15 euros for a half a day. We headed there in the afternoon to relax for a few hours. We were greeted by Christophe, the manager, who was very helpful and was on hand with any questions we had.

We took in the views of tourists parasailing behind speed boats, while jet skis darted across the waves and people swam and played in the sea before trying to look elegant hobbling up the pebble beach without wincing in bare feet  – I was one of those people and had to be rescued mid crawl. The sensible ones wore swim shoes, they might not look glamorous but they will mean you make it back to your sunbed unscathed!

Christophe – The Manager at Plage Beau Rivage

The Private Beach

The Zen Area

The Restaurant and Lounge

What I Packed

The weather in Nice varies depending on when you choose to travel there, but generally speaking you will get the best weather from June to October, with temperatures staying in from the low to the high twenties, peaking in July and August.

People tend to dress fairly casually in Nice during the day with most people opting for shorts, t-shirts and sandals or summer dresses in order to keep comfortable in the heat.

Having travelled from the UK in a floral shirt from Warehouse and favourite cotton stretch navy ankle grazers from Hope Fashion which were perfect for the journey, the key to keeping cool for me once I arrived in the 28 degree heat, was to wear clothes as thin and loosely fitting as possible!

However, that didn’t mean I wanted to wear a potato sack so I packed my trusty kaftans instead, which served me well during my 4 days there.

Other essentials included sunglasses and the obligatory floppy hat although I also took a straw trilby and then picked up another one from the market when we were shopping. Trilby’s are it seems the fashion to be seen in, in Nice.

One of my favourite accessories though, had to be my Mi-Pac cream tumbled swing bag which was gifted to me from House of Fraser. Increasingly, I’ve found putting too much weight on one shoulder when carrying a handbag has led to both neck and shoulder pain when carried for prolonged periods, so this feminine yet practical backpack was a perfect solution.

The bag is made from a tough and durable faux leather and includes two detachable draw string rope straps that makes it versatile as a one or two shoulder style. It is very spacious inside, includes an inside pocket for securing smaller items and also has an additional tab fastening to the main bag for added security.

There’s also a handy small concealed zipped pocket at the rear of the bag, which I use to keep my business cards in! I loved carrying this bag around Nice with me but it’s had equal amounts of use back at home too and it’s great to have found a stylish backpack that is so wearable.

Sun Protection – Prevage City Smart 

Ever since I was a young teenager, my Mum has impressed upon me the importance of protecting my skin from the harmful rays of the sun. Apart from the fact that long term sun exposure can be incredibly ageing for the skin (with an estimated 90 percent of skin ageing being caused by the sun), it can also lead to skin cancer which can have devastating effects.

If you are out and about, particularly on a hot day, you may not want to put a heavy suncream on your face and neck, particularly if you are wearing makeup. Luckily these days there are now specialised light-weight creams you can use on a daily basis, all year round, that help protect your skin not only from UV rays but from other environmental aggressors including pollution and free radicals.

I was sent some Elizabeth Arden’s Prevage City Smart SPF 50 sun block to try out for my trip to Nice to help protect my skin against the sun and I have to say it is brilliant. It’s oil-free and very lightweight and goes on very easily. Each morning, I applied a small amount into the palm of my hand and massaged gently into my face, over my normal daily moisturiser and before I put on my makeup and my skin remained protected for the rest of the day. . The good news is that the cream absorbs into your skin almost immediately without leaving a heavy residue, which means you can start applying your makeup almost straight away, without having to wait for it to soak in.

According to its description on the box, it contains powerful antioxidants that a DNA Enzyme Complex supports your skin’s natural repair system. It also comes in great packaging too so I will definitely be buying again in the future!

The temperature in the evenings in Nice was still very warm but comfortable enough to wear something a little more dressy and fitted. I opted for a white shirt and burgundy leather skirt (from eBay) one evening which I wore with tan tassel sandals from Ted & Muffy.

Where We Ate

There are so many cafes and restaurants around Nice that it’s simply a case of taking a wander and seeing what takes your fancy in most cases, whether it be Italian or Mediterranean cuisine or even good old Irish pub grub!

We ate in number of these type of eateries during the day, including a tasty slap up lunch of chicken goujons and chips at Ma Nolans on Rue Saint-François de Paule in Old Nice. While in the evenings we dined at a variety of restaurants including the Hard Rock Cafe on the Promenade des Anglais and the fabulous Côte Lounge on Rue de France, which was by far my stand out favourite place to eat and definitely on my recommended list, should you visit Nice.

The atmosphere at the reasonably priced Côte Lounge is fantastic, with an outdoor seating area of white contemporary chairs and round tables, which were packed with diners when we arrived, enjoying the brilliant live entertainment being performed there. The service was very swift and we began our evening with cocktails and nibbles before choosing our mains from the varied Mediterranean menu with me opting for the seared Thai tuna which was really tasty.

Apart from meeting a fabulous couple from Belgium on the next table who we ended up chatting to for most of the evening and sinking a bottle of wine with (!), the thing that really made this a wonderful and memorable evening was the live entertainment by the Garçons Chics Band.  A brilliant and highly talented trio of musicians, they sang the night away with much high jinx, playing only a guitar, double base and drum as their instruments. We were given our very own personal performance at our table including a brilliant rendition of ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift, which included some serious and highly amusing butt shaking from the lead singer at the end which had us all in stitches and led to the whole restaurant erupting in applause.

For some more great ideas on dining out in Nice, check out this guide: Insider Guide to Eating Out in Nice: 10 Best Cultural Restaurants

Getting Around Nice and the French Riviera

Nice is fantastically situated for visiting other top destinations on the French Riviera including Cannes and Monaco. Travelling around and into or out of Nice is also very easy and cheap thanks to its efficient tram, bus and rail system.

By Train

If you are looking to escape the city centre for the day then taking the train is a great option. Nice train station (Gare de Nice-Ville) was originally built away from the city-centre, but as the modern city of Nice grew, it is now considered part of the town centre.

Trains run along the coast, stopping at different towns including Monaco and Cannes, with a return train trip to Cannes, for example, costing around 12 euros at the time of writing. Other common destinations travelled to from Nice Ville includes Lyon, Paris, Marseille, Toulon and Milan.

Hanging out in beautiful Monaco – roughly a 20 minute journey from Nice by train.

Wonderful Cannes which takes around 35 minutes to reach using the train from Nice Ville.

By Bus

If you fancy taking to the coastal road on public transport rather than taking the train, you can get the bus which is unbeatably cheap at around 1.50 euros per trip. Lignes d’azur buses travel up and down the coast and around the city. If you are travelling outside the city to say Monaco, Cannes or Antibes, you need to inform the driver who will issue you with a separate ticket, although the price of 1.50 euros will remain the same. The only downside of this mode of transport is that many buses stop running around 19:00.

The Nice Airport Express Bus will take you from the airport to the city centre and costs around 6 euros.  To get the bus back to the airport, you need to take Bus #99 and will need to flag it down at your bus stop or it may not stop. The best places to get the Express from is either the train station or Promenade des Anglais. The bus stops at terminal 2 first and then terminal 1, so make sure you know which terminal your airline is flying from before you get there.

By Tram

Within Nice there’s a tram line that has 21 stops throughout the city and again charges the same low fare of 1.50 euros as the bus. Unlike the bus though where you can purchase a ticket once you’ve boarded, you will need to purchase a ticket from a ticket machine found at each tram stop, before you board. Ticket machines accept cash or credit card payment. Unlike the bus, the tram doesn’t stop running until midnight.

By Taxi

Taxis are by far the more pricey way to travel around with the average cost of a taxi from the airport to the city centre worked on a fixed schedule of charges and costing around 40 euros for the equivalent of a 20 minute journey. They do not respond to being flagged down and have to be booked or picked up from fixed taxi ranks. The main taxi ranks in the city are at Promenade des Anglais, Esplanade Masséna, Rue Hôtel-des-Postes, Place Garibaldi,  Gare SNCF (main train station) and the Acropolis.

By Car

With such great public transport at your feet, hiring a car in Nice really isn’t necessary unless you plan to tour outside the city. Parking in Nice also adds up costing between 20-25 euros per night depending on where you park. The only time hiring a car may be a good option is if you want to take a trip down to St Tropez which does not have a train station, however, in the summer you can get to St Tropez via boat which is likely to be a much more relaxing way to travel and particularly as the roads in and out of St Tropez can be a nightmare.

Segway Tour

A fun way to explore the city is by taking a Segway Tour. Your guide will take you and the rest of the party on a tour of Nice whilst giving you an insight into Nice’s history as well as suggesting things to do and see later.  You will be given a 15 minute training session before departure and a helmet to wear for safety. The minimum age to use a segway is 14 with anyone under 16 needing to be accompanied by an adult. You will need to prebook your tour and prices vary depending on the length of the tour and its route but as a guide a 2.5 hour tour of Nice will cost around 45 euros.

Image credit: The Petite Wanderess

By Foot

If you are wanting to explore Nice properly, then by foot is a great way to do so and with most attractions being within walking distance from the city centre, it’s also the cheapest mode of transport!

Where to Shop

Cours Saleya Market

Walking through Cours Saleya market is an experience in itself and one that shouldn’t be missed, if only for the ambience and sensory pleasure alone. Bursting with sights, aromas and colour it is part of the fabric of life in Nice. Every morning the market is filled with fresh produce, cheeses, herbs, olives and flowers which is the best time to visit if you are self catering and want to enjoy some of the wonderful food available.

The food part of the market is only open in the morning and finishes at 1 p.m. but the flower section is open all day for you to stroll through and experience, with stall after stall filling the air with floral scent along with buckets of lavender, water colour paintings and beautiful vintage style tins of soap for you to choose from.

The Cours Saleya food and flower market runs from Tuesday to Sunday and on a Monday turns into a fabulous and sprawling antique market or ‘Brocante’, where you can find a range of interesting antiques and bric-a-brac.

Bargaining at the food and flower market is a no-no but at the antique market it is a must, with the best time to do so near the end of the day, when the market is ending around 4 p.m.

It is important to be aware of the basic etiquette in France when entering a bargaining situation or indeed simply walking into a boutique.  A simple ‘Bonjour Madame/Monsieur’ before asking questions or entering into bargaining will show that you are polite and respectful and will get you off on the right foot.

Once you have finished exploring the market, you can discover all kinds of shops and boutiques along the old narrow streets in the Old Town of Nice.

However, if you are looking for something more high end where price is not a consideration then head for Carré d’Or, otherwise known as Golden Square, for the big ticket designer boutiques and  Avenue de Suède for luxury outlets such as Anne Fontaine and Louis Vuitton.

For more mid range shops then the place to be is The Avenue Jean Médecin just off Place Massena where you’ll find all the big high street names and Nice Etoile which is a huge shopping centre.

Also worth checking out and where I got a pair of fabulous red patent shoes, is Galeries Lafayette, a department store you could easily spend hours in.

If you fancy a shopping trip outside the city then Cannes and Monaco are only a short train ride away.  If you are looking for designer shopping in Cannes, stick to the Boulevard de la Croisette where you’ll find all the major French luxury brands and famous names such as Hermes, Valentino, Gucci, Prada and Armani.  Rue d’Antibes and Rue Meynadier are the main shopping streets for general shopping at a more affordable price tag.

Monaco is without doubt one of the world’s luxury capitals when it comes to shopping and is a playground for the rich and famous alike. Here you’ll find the most prestigious labels in haute couture, jewellery and perfumes. The famous Circle d’Or is an impressive mecca for the world of fashion, beauty and luxury and is filled with luxury items.

Whether you can afford to actually step foot inside the stores is another matter but even those on a budget can still enjoy window shopping and viewing the beautiful clothing and decadent items on display…

Hiring a Boat at Villefranche sur Mer

For the ultimate fun way to experience the Côte d’Azur it is really worth spending the money and taking a boat out for the day.  The place to go for boat hire in Nice is Villefranche sur Mer which is a 15 minute cab ride outside the city.

We went with Dark Pelican who hire a range of boats from Fun Yak’s for which you do not require a boat licence and which is restricted in the distance you can travel, to a range of larger boats such as the Leader 805 which has a 26 foot hull and a 260cv engine.  Hire prices vary depending on the type of boat you are looking to take out but as a guide a Fun Yak costs 171 euros for a whole day, with boats requiring a licence varying from 315 euros for the day for a smaller boat such as the Cap Camarat 5.5 that we took out, to 675 euros for a Leader 805.

You will need to book in advance of your trip and choose the boat you want to hire and you will also need to take your boat licence with you to show when you arrive.

The boat must also be returned refuelled after your day out and there is a refuelling point just before you return to the mooring jetty at Villefranche. To refuel our boat cost around 50 euros but obviously a larger boat will cost more so will need to be factored into your cost for the day.

We took the boat along the coast past Antibes and Cannes this time to Mandelieu de Napoule where we were given the use of a luxury yacht for a few hours courtesy of Fairline Yachts to do a photoshoot (although sadly it never left the marina!) and to have a spot of lunch.  Once we were finished we headed off to an island just off the coast of Cannes which is a favourite place to drop anchor amongst the boating community to enjoy a swim off the back of the boat or to sit on the small beach there.

The atmosphere here is just idyllic, with the sound of the water lapping at the hull of your boat and the sound of children’s laughter as they play on the beach or swim in the clear warm sea, filling the air.  Small boats carrying refreshments for sale, slowly peruse the waters for anyone in need, selling cold drinks, ice-cream or even pizza if you’re really hungry!

We enjoyed coconut ice-cream straight out of a coconut on the back of our boat washed down with ice-cold water. It doesn’t really get much better than that!

With Nice being only a cheap two hour flight from Gatwick airport on easyJet, it is extremely easy to travel to and almost certainly worth the visit. It can be expensive, particularly at the moment with the pound being weak against the euro but if you are careful, you don’t need to spend the earth to have a great time!

Click below for our short video diary of our time in Nice!

The Big Travel Guide to Nice

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1 Comment

  1. September 2, 2016 / 10:10 am

    Lovely post, so much to look at, and great tips. Love that city. x

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